Scientists at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and University of North Carolina, USA, have identified the cell types underlying schizophrenia in a new study published in Nature Genetics.
Genetic studies have linked hundreds of genes to schizophrenia, each contributing a small part to the risk of developing the disease. The great abundance of identified genes have made it difficult to design experiments. Scientists have been struggling to understand what is linking the genes together and whether these genes affect the entire brain diffusely or certain components more. By combining new maps of all the genes used in different cell types in the brain with detailed lists of the genes associated with schizophrenia, scientists in the current study could identify the types of cells that underlie the disorder. The genetics point towards certain cell types being much more implicated than others. One finding was that there appears to be a few major cell types contributing to the disorder, each of which originates in distinct areas of the brain.
“This marks a transition in how we can use large genetic studies to understand the biology of disease. With the results from this study, we are giving the scientific community a chance to focus their efforts where it will give maximum effect”, says Jens Hjerling-Leffler, research group leader at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics at Karolinska Institutet, one of the main authors.
The findings offer a roadmap for the development of new therapies.
The authors report the following potentially competing financial interests. PF Sullivan: Lundbeck (advisory committee). J Hjerling-Leffler: Cartana (Scientific Adviser) and Roche (grant recipient).
Photo of Jens Hjerling-Leffler, research group leader at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, Karolinska Institutet: Stefan Zimmerman